A large billboard displaying the photographs of leading Israeli journalists who regularly report on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption cases along with the caption "They won't decide" was put up on Friday at a major intersection in northern Tel Aviv, as Israel gears up for the April 9 election.
At the same time, a Facebook page also titled "They won't decide" was opened. "The media has been trying for years to systematically drip to us messages of hate against Netanyahu," a post published on that page read.
The billboard carries no name of an individual or organization and it is unclear who may be behind the campaign, but according to Facebook's information, the page is promoted and targeted at users who follow Netanyahu's official page.
Several politicians criticized the campaign on social media. Former Zionist Union co-leader Tzipi Livni said in a tweet: "The public would be the one to decide that instead of a divisive … prime minister, there'd be a government that strengthens the courts and free media. Yes, a democracy!"
The Israel Press Council said it "sees a billboard displaying the portraits of journalists, without any sign of the advertiser, as the beginning of yet another incitement campaign in this election, directed against the media."
Netanyahu's Likud party is the only one so far to object to anonymous online propaganda. The party's legal adviser told the Central Election Committee on Tuesday in a letter that it objects to fast-tracking through the Knesset a proposal for a legislative amendment that bans anonymous propaganda, a week after the party called on the committee to forgo an appeal concerning this matter.
Lawyers Shachar Ben Meir and Isaac Aviram appealed to the committee in December to extend a law banning anonymous election propaganda, so that it applies to online publicity, too, and not only to newspapers or billboards mentioned in the 1959 law.
They said all parties must stand behind any publication on their behalf, including all comments or paid publicity. The appeal also urges the committee to order all candidates for public office to identify as such in any message sent on their behalf.
Netanyahu has recently ordered Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and head of the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Nissan Slomiansky, to halt the advancement of a legislative reform on election propaganda, aimed at adapting it to the internet and multi-channel media.
The proposed reform includes the undoing of a ban on broadcasting propaganda in the 60 days leading up to the vote and transparency on social media propaganda, including paid comments. Netanyahu argued he wants to study the bill before advancing it, but political sources say he's concerned about its impact on his electoral campaign.
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